By Jay Fidell
It’s quiet, dry and hot in Kakaako most Saturday afternoons. Perfect for a deli sandwich at the Bagel on Cooke Street across Fishers. I call it the Bagel because years ago the proprietors called it that, even though now they’re calling it This is It Deli and Bakery.
It’s home on Saturday afternoon, and for my money the turkey pastrami on fresh baked rye is better than anything on Sixth Avenue or the Lower East Side. It’s tasty and light, perfect for a hot Saturday afternoon, although a bialy and lox wouldn’t be bad either.
The staff make you feel at home. The people who straggle in are so sweet – they’re all part of the phenomenon, from the local woodworker to the priest that feeds the poor, and others I recognize from so many times before. It’s the Kakaako crowd, people you could write a book or play or make a movie about. They find themselves at the Bagel.
I truly love this unpretentious restaurant with such a big heart and rich history. Years ago, I worried that KS would close it and bulldoze the block as part of its Kakaako plan, assuming there was one. There’s no sound of any such plan these days, and certainly not on a quiet Saturday afternoon, so I think the Bagel is safe for a little while longer.
And for a time, I thought the Bagel would be a perfect watering hole for the biotech park we were then most surely going to develop down the street in Kakaako makai, courtesy Edwin C. Cadman, legendary dean of the medical school. I envisioned, as he might have, a daily deli crowd there, lined up ten deep waiting for their turkey pastrami sandwiches.
But there’s no biotech park, or even the prospect of one, and world class visitors don’t straggle into the Bagel, either on weekdays or on quiet Saturday afternoons. So these days I’m not worried about losing access to my favorite deli sandwiches. No tech park is coming to Kakaako any time soon. From a personal deli point of view, that’s just fine.
But from a state economy point of view, it’s a disaster. Things are so quiet you can hear the grass growing in Mother Waldron Park. What happened to the dreams and promises of JABSOM II, the Cancer Research Center, the Regional Bio Safety Lab and, of course, the KS Asia Pacific Innovation Center? Now, there’s only tumbleweed on Ilalo Street and a distant if not macabre chant of “Live, Work, Learn and Play in Kakaako.”
Who’s to blame? KS could have and should have built the Innovation Center years ago, not for profit but to build a tech industry that would provide good jobs and futures for their graduates. No such thing. The rest of these projects were killed or squandered by UH, which controls the land, for reasons which were indecipherable both then and now.
Now we have a new team that exercises the University’s power in Kakaako – Marcy Greenwood and Virginia Hinshaw. Do they know the story of what preceded them in Kakaako, the story of all the projects that went to the bottom? Will they do anything to implement Ed Cadman’s dream and realize the promises of their predecessors? So far, there’s no sign from the heavens on this, so we’ll just have to watch what happens.
You can watch from the tables outside the Bagel, where you can see all the way down Cooke Street to the tumbleweed. Take your time – no one's likely to disturb your lunch.